As babies, your twins may have been fed, clothed and bathed together to help simplify an extremely busy parenting schedule. But as twins grow older, most parents don't want their twins to be carbon copies of each other. How can their individuality be encouraged, and what can you do to help build it?
Try the following 10 tips to help you treat your twin toddlers like individuals and to help others avoid viewing them as a package deal.
- Refer to each child by his single name. Avoid labels like "the twins," "the boys" or "the girls." Use each child's given name instead, like Liam and Lucas, for example. To prevent fusing the children's two names together and using it as one name (i.e. LucasandLiam), vary the order in which the names are used. Intermingling the use of "Lucas and Liam" with "Liam and Lucas" will also prohibit giving one twin top billing. I know it's easier to call them one name, but our kids are two separate people. We really try to encourage that by using their individual names
- Avoid labels. Refrain from referring to members of your duo as "the smart one," "the artistic one," "the scientist," etc. Labels limit twins' potential.
- Use identifiers to help others know who's who. Giving each toddler an identifying object such as different colored shoelaces can be an easy way to instruct others on how to tell your twosome apart. Knowing that Lucas has green shoelaces and Liam's are yellow, for example, will help discourage people from making their own comparisons based on appearance like, "He's the heavier one," or "He's the shorter one." Different colored bibs, pacifier strings, different haircuts or different hair styles such as one ponytail for one girl and two for another may also be used to help differentiate between toddler twins.
- Dress similarly instead of identically. My friend Kristen, is the mother of 3-year-old fraternal twins Ethan and Evan. She feels purchasing the same outfit in two different colors for her sons have helped them become aware of their individuality. "Dressing similar teaches my boys that they are unique and that they have some things that are their own," says Kristen. She's also observed that it's helped introduce the concept of sharing. "If Ethan wants to wear Evan's dinosaur shirt instead of his own truck shirt, I'll tell him it belongs to Evan and that he has to ask him," says Kristen. Its been my experience and it's been easier to dress twins alike and that toddlers usually want exactly what another child has anyhow. At the toddler age, parents can start giving them a choice. Separate drawers for each twin's clothing can also promote the concept that some items are personal property.
- Go solo with each twin. The chance to be alone with each twin separately can enrich the whole family. A toddler may enjoy a trip to the park or playground with just Mom or Dad. While one twin will receive your undivided attention, the other may bond with other family members or friends. Its a good idea to have one or two compact strollers in addition to the side-by-side stroller for easy use on those solo excursions. Alternating which child goes with which parent on solo outings will help family relationships develop.
- Carefully observe each child's interests. Providing structured and unstructured playtimes will help you see each child's strengths. Let them tell you what they prefer.Don't try to force them into what you think is the image of twins. Parents can save themselves a lot of grief if they watch for these cues. I also found it was helpful to avoid forcing each child to do what his twin was doing. One of my sons loves coloring, and the other pretends the crayons are logs and uses them as cargo in his toy trucks. Instead of forcing him to color, I eventually realized he was being creative in his own way.
- Provide individual praise and affection, and make sure both children receive their fair share. Foster both verbal and nonverbal one-on-one communication. Touching, hugging, smiling and eye contact are areas where equal may not be the same. A parent tries to respond to the real needs of each child at a particular time.
- Incorporate each individual into the dual birthday celebration. Twins will always share a birthday, and toddler twins will probably share a birthday celebration. Over the years, my friend and I have used the following ideas to allow each of our twins to enjoy that special day that he shares with a sibling:
- Provide each twin with his own cake in whatever flavor and theme he chooses.
- Sing "Happy Birthday" twice with each twin taking a turn to blow out his own candles. Some moms even record in a notebook or journal which twin is sung to first. Writing this down will help ensure that next year the order is reversed.
- Give separate presents and cards for each child to open to help develop the individuality concept, too.
- Use humor to divert comparisons. Despite all your attempts to emphasize the individuality of your twins and to educate extended family members, comparisons are inevitable. Well-meaning strangers are usually the worst offenders. Keeping your sense of humor can help you respond. For example, a mom's light-hearted response to "Which one is smarter?" might be "I think I am!"
- Enjoy your twin toddlers and remember to nurture the natural bond between them as well as to encourage their individualism. If you try to discourage that bond, you'll likely hurt them more than help them, because it will be confusing. Parents of Twins can relish in the fact that Twins are their own entertainment committee!